The single-player role-playing game for the PC was seemingly in hibernation thanks to the popularity of its online cousins, as exemplified by World of Warcraft. That changed earlier this year, when The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion shipped and became a gigantic success. With the single-player RPG genre suddenly alive and vibrant, that's good news for games such as Gothic 3. It'd be inaccurate to call Gothic 3 an Oblivion clone, though. After all, it's the next chapter in a five-year-old series. Still, it's hard to not compare the two games.
It's probably easier to describe how the two games differ. In Gothic 3, you won't create your own hero or avatar like you do in Oblivion. Instead, as the latest game in the Gothic series, you'll continue the story of the "unnamed hero" of the franchise. And no, you don't need to have played the previous Gothic games to understand what's going on, as Gothic 3 will ease you into its vast, open-ended world.
In Gothic 3, the human lands have been overrun and occupied by orcs, which puts your character in an interesting situation. That's because Gothic 3 won't have a linear plot, and your job won't be to liberate the human lands. That's not to say that you couldn't, but the game is going for a grittier, nonlinear experience. You'll be able to chart your own course and make friends and enemies of all the factions, so perhaps you might want to help the orcs rather than the humans. The game will have three different end paths, and how you arrive at each of the possible endings will be up to you.
Your unnamed hero will start with a blank slate, and you'll be able to customize his skills and abilities as you progress through the game. For instance, you start with no spells, so you'll be able to build your casting abilities from scratch. There are approximately 50 spells in the game, ranging from fireball spells to transformation spells to teleportation spells. You may start with basic fighting abilities, but you'll be able to train with teachers to learn new skills, such as archery and two-handed swordfighting. Or you can train to be more of a thief, able to pick locks (lock-picking is a minigame) and skulk around.
This nonlinear gameplay will be aided by the fact that the world in Gothic 3 is going for the same sort of wide-open feeling of Oblivion. The game's world is split into three realms, with a total of about seven-and-a-half square miles of territory to explore. That's not quite as large as Oblivion's world, but from what we've seen, Gothic 3's world is much more alive and detailed. There seems to be a better sense of atmosphere, as well. For example, it can be kind of grim to walk into an orc-occupied human town and see the bodies of human resistors strung up on poles by the side of the road. Rest assured, there are plenty of less morbid things to gawk at, too.
The towns and villages that you come across are populated by hundreds of characters, and the reactive artificial intelligence will make them behave much more realistically than those in Oblivion, according to the developers. Characters will react to everything going on around them, and if you behave belligerently (such as running around with your sword drawn), they'll recoil from speaking with you. Each character will also have a daily schedule, but rather than the highly scripted nature of Oblivion, the characters in Gothic 3 have more general instructions. So, if they have free time, they'll look for something to do, rather than do the same thing at each time day after day.
You'll also be able to recruit traveling companions from this population. Fans of the Gothic series will know of the unnamed hero's four companions in earlier games, and they all make a return in Gothic 3, however you'll have to hunt them down in their civilian lives and get them to rejoin your cause. You'll also be able to recruit other companions, as well as mercenaries to fight alongside you.
Whatever you do in the game will impact your overall reputation, and this is important since there are so many factions that will take that into account. If you want to help the orcs, for example, you'll have to battle in the arena, starting small and then working your way up to the big coliseum battles. Prove you're good enough to survive those, and the orcs will respect you. On the other hand, help out the humans, and you'll find yourself on the bad side of the orcs. All the choices that you make will have an impact on the ending. In fact, when you do complete the game, you'll be presented with a montage of all your decisions, which will help explain how you arrived at your particular ending.
We were told by one of the developers that "rushing" through the game would require approximately 40 hours of gameplay, and if you take into account the sides that you can take in each encounter and quest, that amounts to a hefty amount of replayability. With its open-ended gameplay and strong similarities to Oblivion, it's clear that publisher Aspyr hopes that Gothic 3 is the next big single-player RPG for the PC. The game reminds us quite a bit of Oblivion, and of last year's Fable, as well. Gothic 3 doesn't seem to be going for the epic, apocalyptic story of Oblivion, though. Instead, it seems like it's going for a more immersive and intimate experience in a fantasy world. Gothic 3 is scheduled to ship later this year.